The Most Interesting Man In Hockey: Jon Cooper

For what it’s worth, my belief is that the best candidate for the Edmonton Oilers’ head coaching position is Jon Cooper, currently the head coach of Tampa Bay’s AHL affiliate in Norfolk.

Jon Cooper has never served as an NHL coach – head, associate, or assistant. All of his experience has come in other leagues. But when I first profiled Cooper back in March, I was highly impressed by the experience he does have.

He left his previous career (Cooper was a lawyer) to take up coaching full time in 2003 in the North American Hockey League. In five seasons he won the league championship twice, coach of the year honours twice, and compiled a 223-93-17 record. For good measure, he also helped develop an NHL’er (Matt Taormina) in a league that rarely produces them.

In the summer of 2008, Cooper was named coach and general manager of the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers. The year prior, the Gamblers went 13-41-6 with a minus-94 goal differential. In Cooper’s first year with the team they led the league in regular season points and managed a plus-72 goal differential (a shift of 166 goals in a 60-game season). The next year, the Gamblers again led the league in the regular season and won the championship as well. In two USHL seasons, Cooper was named G.M. of the year twice and coach of the year once (and was roped into performing in the videos sprinkled throughout this piece). That got him a head coaching job in the AHL with the Norfolk Admirals.

In Norfolk

Norfolk, under the guidance of a new coach (Cooper) and general manager (Julien BriseBois – recently passed over for the Montreal Canadiens’ G.M. position), may have only managed a first round loss in 2010-11, but that represented the best season any affiliate team of the Tampa Bay Lightning had experienced in a decade and a half:

Season Team W L OTL T PTS GF GA GD Playoffs
2010-11 Norfolk 39 26 15 93 265 230 35 Rd. 1 loss
1996-97 Adirondack 38 28 2 12 90 258 249 9 Rd. 1 loss
2009-10 Norfolk 39 35 6 84 208 214 -6 N/A
2003-04 Hershey 33 34 5 8 78 203 218 -15 N/A
2001-02 Springfield 35 41 2 2 74 213 237 -24 N/A
1997-98 Adirondack 31 37 3 9 74 245 275 -30 Rd. 1 loss
2008-09 Norfolk 33 38 9 75 236 269 -33 N/A
2002-03 Springfield 34 38 1 7 76 202 243 -41 Rd. 1 loss
2007-08 Norfolk 29 44 7 65 213 267 -54 N/A
1998-99 Cleveland (IHL) 28 47 7 63 248 310 -62 N/A
2006-07 Springfield 28 49 3 59 181 268 -87 N/A
2005-06 Springfield 28 43 9 65 220 312 -92 N/A
2004-05 Springfield 27 47 9 57 161 255 -94 N/A
1999-00 Detroit (IHL) 22 52 8 52 163 277 -114 N/A
2000-01 Detroit (IHL) 23 53 6 52 184 311 -127 N/A

Tampa Bay’s farm teams have been miserable for years; the 2010-11 squad coached by Cooper (in bold) was easily the best of the bunch despite a middling record.

In 2011-12, BriseBois and Cooper took things further. Norfolk improved their goal differential to a whopping plus-93, won 55 games to put them first in the AHL during the regular season (10 more wins than second-place Oklahoma City) and then dominated the AHL playoffs, never allowing a series to go the distance and sweeping both the Eastern Conference and Calder Cup Finals. The club also set a record for the longest-ever winning streak in professional hockey, with 28 consecutive wins, 10 more than the previous pro hockey record and 11 more than the previous AHL record.

Experience matters, no question. But experience has never been as important as the combination of ability and success. Cooper has been a rock star at every level since going into coaching; he’s experienced nothing but success. While team success is an imperfect measure of coaching ability, the evidence strongly suggests that Cooper is highly capable. The facts that he is an educated man and a Western Canadian to boot (Cooper’s originally from Prince George) don’t hurt him either.

The Oilers have a chance to land a home run here. There are a variety of excellent candidates available, but none as compelling as Cooper. I don’t get a vote when the Oilers hire their next head coach, but if I did I’d be voting for Cooper.

This week by Jonathan Willis

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Im fine with Coop. But then I`m fine with any coach that is more articulate and better looking then a Sutter, which is every coach.

    I can`t watch the Sutters, they make the Gino Odjicks, Tim Hunter, and Tiger Williams look like pornstars.

  • Bucknuck

    hhmmm
    Oiler Nation choices seem to centre around Cooper, Krueger or Sutter. (Maybe Todd Nelson but he may not be NHL ready yet)

    They should know what they have with Krueger.
    Cooper looks like a potential home run and cerntainly rates consideration.
    Sutter, I don’t know how he would have done in Calgary without The Kipper.

    I’d be good with either of the first two. Possible miracles here.
    Sutter would be a safer choice. Wait-and-see for me.

    I wish they’d put their interviews on youtube.

    • Nelson has already stated that he is happy with where he is right now and wants to stay with OKC. I say go for Cooper and if it can’t be done then give Krueger a shot. Cooper’s success throughout his career is just too good to ignore and I think that gives him a step up on Krueger.

  • RexLibris

    bididdy18’s comment sounds a bit reminiscent of what was said about Hall in Oil Change prior to his being selected in the draft.

    Might Krueger be given the head coaching title with Cooper brought aboard as an associate coach?

    Tambellini might be more inclined to this arrangement as it would give Cooper an apprenticeship of sorts in the NHL.

    Would Cooper be interested? Given the shelf life of many NHL coaches, perhaps. In my opinion the most significant selling point would be the talent available and stability of the organization with which he would be working.

    The delay in hiring a head coach might also be explained if it turns out that the Oilers have interest in Cooper joining the team.

  • Zed

    Written before the Oilers have officially named their next head coach.

    JW, you are setting yourself up to a big ol “FU man. I told you so” to management.

    Something we all aspire to do.

    Correct or not, I like this article.

    • No, I’ve just been asked a few times to come out and give an explicit opinion on who I think the Oilers’ next coach should be; I think it should be Cooper.

      I wouldn’t fault them for going with Sutter or Stevens or Krueger or someone else; there are a lot of good candidates out there. Cooper’s just the one I think is a cut above the rest.

      • I’m just saying that I think it is preposterous that Willis would go on record regarding the best candidate to coach the Oilers without addressing the issue of Poise.

        Which candidate has the most poise – which candidate has shown that he can develop poise in young players – which candidate inspires poise in the teams veterans – which candidate will play Khabibulin a minimum of 45 games to demonstrate the poise of a champion to the youth – these are questions too big to ignore.

  • Bucknuck

    The doesn’t need to coach, he could probably make more money as a lawyer. I think he coaches because he just simply loves it and that is probably part of the reason he has so much success, that and the fact he knows that if his hockey career doesn’t work out he has a great fall back option. No pressure just passion for the game. I would be doing what ever I can to sign him. I like Krueger but I think the team needs new faces plain and simple. Nothing better in my opinion to have a young coach with a young team so they can grow together. Unity wins

  • Bucknuck

    Yeah but Jon Cooper has never worked with Tambellini or Lowe at any level before, so he won’t get the job.

    Scotty Bowman v2.0 wouldn’t get a look from this head office unless they had already worked with him.

    It’s a sad state of affairs, and I am shocked that Katz lets this farce go on.